They said it was going to be easy, and it was. They said it could become a cakewalk, and it did. But after an amazing night at San Siro it is European champions Inter who need a miracle second leg to make it to the Champions League semi-finals, while Schalke are basking in the glory of their sensational 5-2 victory.
With two teams seemingly doing their very best to give a lesson on how not to defend, it was die Knappen who proved more clinical, more hungry and just plain better on the night as the Nerazzurri absolutely fell apart.
When Dejan Stankovic fired the hosts ahead on 25 seconds with the latest in his collection of halfway line wonders, it appeared that the pre-match hype may have been spot on. But that opinion seemed to spread around the Inter team too, as they turned in a showing which suggested they too thought the tie was already won. Too often they simply stood and watched as Alexander Baumjohann and Jose Manuel Jurado found space in between the lines of defence and midfield without ever really being under pressure.
Joel Matip’s scrambled but worthy equaliser seemed to momentarily kick the Beneamata back into gear, but as soon as Diego Milito finally stayed onside long enough to turn in Esteban Cambiasso’s header they slipped back into cruise control and were heavily punished.
Keep your Ed | Schalke midfielder Edu ran Inter ragged
Edu, who had the beating of Andrea Ranocchia in the air from start to finish, found a gap between Cristian Chivu and Javier Zanetti with the Argentine having pushed up to close down Jefferson Farfan. After roasting the stand-in centre-back only to see his deflected shot well saved by Julio Cesar, he was first to react as he steered home with the outside of his left foot. He’d been quicker, bolder and braver than the home back-line, and not for the first time.
With movement to die for, Raul had been pulling many of the strings and got his just reward after half-time, his magnificent run and finish of a striking god was arguably a better goal than Stankovic’s. Within four minutes Jurado got down the right and had his cross turned in by Ranocchia. It didn’t take Chivu’s red card or Edu’s second goal to know that this tie was dead and buried.
Inter must now go to Gelsenkirchen and win by four goals. That will simply not happen. And it will especially not happen without them conceding a fair number themselves. For while Ralf Rangnick was able to make up for his side’s defensive shortcomings with a lively midfield display aided by the holding prowess of Kyriakos Papadopoulos, Leonardo failed to follow suit. Thiago Motta and Cambiasso once again showed that there is no compatibility between them as they left their defence without cover and their front three without significant service for large spells.
In two games Leonardo has given a great example as to why he is simply not the go-to man in a tactical crisis, while Schalke can now look forward to a semi-final against either Manchester United or Chelsea. After all, it would take events even more shocking than tonight’s for Inter to progress.